Editor’s Note: This is the 15th in a series about iconic Westerville businesses that are featured monthly.
Westerville residents have been marking life’s special moments by celebrating at Giammarco’s Italian Restaurant, 6030 Chandler Court, since 1999.
“It’s a place where the community goes for special events in their lives,” said Tom Bernardo, owner. “I’m having our 40th high school reunion here for Westerville North.”
He said his cousin, Vicki Giammarco, started it all 23 years ago across the street from its current location, and he purchased it in 2001.
The popular restaurant had seating for 40 customers in the original location near United Dairy Farmers, expanding to 80 seats before Bernardo enlisted the help of his sister, Julie Godfrey, who helped with the building of its current location that has a seating capacity for 400, including its expansive patio.
“My dad had been going there for years and just loved going there,” Bernardo said. “I was still living in New Jersey. I’ve been in the hotel business my whole life. My business was always hotel and franchise development for Choice Hotels and Wyndham Worldwide. I bought this because my dad loved it, he loved going there. ”
He said his late father, Reno Bernardo, owned a restaurant called Reno’s in the ’80s at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Morse Road.
“He got me my motivation and inspiration to get into the restaurant business I grew up in,” he said. “It kind of stayed in my blood.”
In honor of his father, Bernardo named a dining area the ‘Reno Room.’
“It’s just me and my wife, Marianela,” Bernardo said. “She does all the books. The kids, Thomas, Lance, Sam, Sabrina, have all worked here over the years. My brother, Joe, was general manager for years. I couldn’t do anything without Mo (Abused), our general manager. He’s totally awesome.”
He said people like independently owned and operated family businesses.
“There are recipes that have been in the family for 50 years,” he said. “We try to keep those consistent and fresh. I used to live in Italy. I played professional football in Italy. I went to Westerville North (graduated in 1982) and played football. I went to Cornell University and played football and studied their hospitality restaurant and hotel management programs.
“After that, I went over and played four more years of professional football in Italy and studied food, wine, culture. I tried to bring a lot of that back here to Giammarco’s, so it has some authenticity.”
Bernardo said popular dishes include the house-made lasagna with layers of Italian cheeses, seasoned ground chuck, spinach and house-made marinara sauce, pizzas and pastas.
He said kids go crazy for the pizza pillows, house-made pizza dough, fried and served with marinara.
“Adults like them just as much as the kids,” Bernardo said. “We have fresh zucchini. People love the spaghetti squash. We have fresh salmon, a daily fresh fish special. Our gluten-free menu is popular. Everyone loves the Stromboli.”
Powell’s Pat & Wendy O’Donnell enjoyed dining on the restaurant patio June 23.
“We love it,” Pat O’Dronnell said. “We both grew up here. We come when we’re in the area.”
I have enjoyed the hot Italian sausages and peppers.
Westerville’s Les and April Mann remember when the restaurant was built.
“It has a very nice patio,” Les Mann said. “We get something and split it.”
A recent Google review by Casey Ganger said, “Giammarco’s is one of our favorite date-night spots! Love the meatballs! Love sitting at the bar and enjoying the ambiance, friendly bartenders, the amazing food and being close to home. I highly recommend!”
The restaurant’s staff is also like family.
Abused said he has worked there nine years.
“The thing I like most about working here is that he (Tom) treats me like his son,” he said. “What makes you feel comfortable at a job is how you get treated. Him and Mare (Marianela) are the reason I’m here. I also like the clientele and the industry.”
Westerville’s Jessica Baker has worked at Giammarco’s for 15 years, starting as a busser, working carryout, then serving and bartending.
“I’ve come and gone but don’t think I ever fully left,” she said. “It’s a family atmosphere. We’re all so close. It’s the mom-and-pop small feel that I really like. The food is really good. Everyone just always cares so much about each other. It’s so tight-knit. I was 15 when I started here. Now I’m 30. This was my job through college. Now I’m married and have a 3-year-old running here eating Gelato right now.”
Bernardo said he has made some major investments because the building is now 11 years old.
“We completely renovated the bar,” he said. “We doubled our craft and tap beers. We are 18 on tap now. People love craft beers now. We expanded the patio and added a brand new stage. We have lots of live entertainment, almost six to seven days a week. We have a bocce league in spring, summer and fall.”
Bernardo said each season has 60 teams, with five games a night.
“The patio is packed,” he said. “The bocce really separates us and drives our patio business. I think it’s the nicest patio. It’s so beautiful and peaceful and quiet back there. Bocce is an Italian traditional game. We have couples, seniors. Any age can roll a bocce ball. It appeals to a wide spectrum of people. It drives a lot of business to the restaurant. And our food is good.”
Business hours are 10 am to 9 pm Sundays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.